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BARGE LAKE FARGE CORP. v. THE S.S. SAXON

March 30, 1960

BARGE LAKE FARGE CORPORATION, Owner of THE Barge T. J. SHERIDAN, Libellant,
v.
THE S.S. SAXON, her engines, boilers, tackle, etc., Saxon Steamship Company, Inc., Owner of the S.S. Saxon, and Isbrandtsen Company, Inc., Operator of the S.S. Saxon, Respondents. SAXON STEAMSHIP COMPANY, Inc., Owner of the S.S. Saxon, Cross-Libellants, v. BARGE LAKE FARGE CORPORATION, Owner of the Barge T. J. Sheridan, and the Barge T. J. Sheridan, her engines, boilers, tackle, etc., Cross-Respondents, and Tug Anna Sheridan Corporation and The Tug Anna Sheridan, Impleaded Cross-Respondents. SAXON STEAMSHIP COMPANY, Inc., Owner of the S.S. Saxon, Libellant, v. THE Tug ANNA SHERIDAN, her engines, boilers, tackle, apparel, etc., and Tug Anna Sheridan Corporation, Owner and Operator of the Tug Anna Sheridan, Respondent. BARGE LAKE FARGE CORPORATION, Owner of the Barge T. J. Sheridan, Libellant, v. THE Tug ANNA SHERIDAN and Tug Anna Sheridan Corporation, Respondents and The Steamship Saxon, Saxon Steamship Company, Inc., and Isbrandtsen Company, Inc., Impleaded Respondents



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GRIM

On November 9, 1954, there was a collision between a ship and a large barge (which looked like a ship and was towed by a tug) in the Delaware River off the northeastern part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both ship barge were damaged. There are three resulting suits in admiralty, which have been tried together without a jury, and the matter is now before the court following argument on requests for findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The owner of the barge sued the ship, her owner, and her operator, and the shipowner cross-libeled the barge and her owner. The shipowner also sued the tug and her owner. The owner of the barge also sued the tug and her owner, and they impleaded the ship and her owner and operator.

 The Koppers Coke pier is on the Pennsylvania side 3,000 to 4,000 feet upriver from the bridge. The tip of the Koppers Coke pier was 3,700 feet from the center of the west draw of the bridge.

 Going upstream from Petty's Island (below the bridge) to the Koppers Coke pier, the river describes a rough arc to the left. The deep water channels and ranges in the river, going upstream between these two points, are (1) Fisher Point Range, (2) Fisher Channel, (3) The Draw Channel, through the bridge, and (4) Delair Range north of the bridge. They appear on the charts as a continuous series of straight channels of varying length, each 300 feet wide and each bearing to the left of the channel below it. This situation of changing courses presented some difficulty to a ship going upstream and might tempt a pilot heading in that direction to make things easier for himself by cutting corners at the bridge and taking the left-hand draw.

 On the day in question the liberty ship Saxon, in charge of her master and a Delaware River pilot who had boarded her off Greenwich (and who had previously piloted only one ship through the Delair bridge) was proceeding upstream to take on cargo at the Koppers Coke pier. Being light, the Saxon drew only 6 feet of water forward and 12 feet aft, and her propeller and rudder were half out of the water. Accompanying her upstream to dock her were the tugs Deinlein and Quaker. The Quaker went well ahead of the Saxon and the Deinlein, and arrived at the Koppers Coke pier to inquire at what time the vessel then docked there, the barge T. J. Sheridan, would be leaving. Those in charge of the Saxon knew that there was a vessel at the Koppers Coke pier and that the Saxon was to take her place there. Because of charter and berth instructions the Saxon had to get to the pier on the tide then running. When the Quaker arrived at the pier she was told that the T. J. Sheridan would be leaving the pier at about 1:30 p.m. The Saxon was apprised of this shortly after 1:00 p.m. The weather that day was clear, but not bright, and visibility was good. There was a 15-mile breeze blowing from the north or northwest.

 The barge T. J. Sheridan is 318 feet long. She looks like a ship, with a superstructure and funnel high enough to prevent her from passing beneath the spans of the Delair Bridge. She cannot pass the bridge unless it is open. She was once a ship. She is a barge because her propulsion machinery has been removed. She is able to steer.

 The barge was docked at the pier, facing inshore. The tug Anna Sheridan lay alongside her facing the opposite direction and put a hawser from her stern to the bow of the barge. She also put a bow line to the after part of the barge and a spring line somewhere between. At about 1:30 p.m. the barge cast off from the pier and the tug moved her astern, turning her stern upriver. At about this time the master of the tug blew three blasts on the whistle as a signal to open the bridge. When the barge was partly turned, the tug let go the spring line and bow line and turned downstream, pulling the barge's bow around to follow. Going downstream, with an ebb tide of 1 1/2 to 2 knots, the tug was pulling the barge on a hawser about 200 feet long at a speed of 2 1/2 to 3 knots over the land. The total distance from the bow of the tug to the stern of the barge was about 600 feet. The tug and tow were in charge of the tug's master, a river pilot.

 Since the bridge had not opened, the tug's master again blew three blasts. He was heading so as to take the tug and tow to the Delair Channel and then in the Draw Channel through the west draw of the bridge. As he got to a point 3,000 feet above the bridge he saw the Saxon 3,000 feet below the bridge and heading upstream at about 6 knots. The tug's master blew one blast to signal a port-to-port passing. There was no answer. The tug and tow and the Saxon continued their respective speeds toward the bridge, and the bridge opened. About 1 1/2 to 2 minutes later, when he had gotten within about 2,500 feet of the bridge, the tug's master blew a second one-blast signal. At this time he saw the Saxon in Fisher Channel, about 2,600 feet below the bridge. The signal was not answered, and the tug stopped her engines. When the tug was about 1,350 feet above the bridge the tug's master blew a third one-blast signal. At this point the Saxon was headed for the west draw and about 900 feet below the bridge. This signal was also unanswered either because the Saxon did not hear the three signals or because she ignored them. The tug and tow had headway and were moving downstream on the tide and on their own momentum toward the west draw, toward which the Saxon was heading.

 Observing that his signals were not answered, the tug's master then blew a tow-blast signal (for a starboard-to-starboard passing) and headed for the east draw of the bridge. This likewise remaining unanswered, the tug's master blew a second two-blast signal.

 The Saxon first saw the barge (but not the tug, the view of which was obscured by the bridge) when the Saxon was two ship's lengths (about 900 feet) below the bridge. At this time the Saxon blew a one-blast signal. The barge disappeared from the Saxon's view behind the bridge as the Saxon continued upstream. When the Saxon was halfway through the bridge (in the west draw) it saw the tug and tow 800 to 1,000 feet dead ahead. Both vessels blew the danger signal. When the stern of the Saxon had cleared the bridge it ordered its engines full astern. This had the effect of slowing the ship's forward motion and turning her to her right. The tug and tow meanwhile continued on a course toward their left for the east draw of the bridge, at an angle of about 50 degrees to the course of the Saxon. The tug, finding itself unable to keep itself and its tow out of the Saxon's way, cut the hawser to the barge and, free of this burden, managed to skitter past the bow of the advancing Saxon, missing it by 20 or 30 feet, and turned to the right. This brought the tug in line with the bridge pier at the east end of the open draw.

 The barge, uncontrolled by the tug, continued on its course and rammed into the side of the Saxon at a point about 900 feet above the Delair bridge. It bounced off, his her again farther astern, and came to rest alongside the west side of the ship, facing upstream.

 The Saxon chose the west draw because it allowed her a longer straight-line course through the bridge (because of the curve of the river) than did the east draw. In taking the west draw she violated the inland narrow channel rule.

 'In narrow channels *fn1" every steam vessel *fn2" shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel ...


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